By Serena Thornburg
Jacobsen Middle School, contributing writer 

The Four-Way Test: A lesson to be learned


March 2, 2024

Each year the Rotary Club of Tehachapi sponsors an essay contest for elementary, junior high and high school students. Following is the essay from the 1st place middle school winner. See list of winners at

The Four-Way Test is a guide to learn from, possessing many essential teachings to help us to be our best selves. I took the Four-Way Test for granted when I first learned of it, but now I realize how important it is. The Four-Way Test consists of four questions: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? These lessons are hard to follow, even if you have good intentions. Most of the time we act and speak before we think. While putting everything I say and do through the Four-Way Test is difficult, it benefits everyone, including me. Now, people around me are more open to my ideas and input. Before I discovered the significance of the Four-Way Test, I did not make the best decisions for myself and others.

Is it the truth? The saying “Honesty is the best policy” is hard to follow, but being honest with ourselves is the hardest of all. We all want to be seen in a good light. In Lego Robotics, there is a competition every year. My team was very excited to compete and have fun this year. Our robot was not aligned well at the practice tables for the robot game. We were desperately fixing codes, trying to make them better. My teammate and I worked at the table while our coach held the computer. I told our coach to enter the coding data to fix a mistake. At the time, I was unaware that this was against the rules. One of the head referees saw, told us this was not allowed, and disqualified our team. At first, it seemed completely unfair that we were disqualified. But as time passed, I realized that we did break the rules. While accepting responsibility for our mistake was hard, it was a valuable lesson for me. It was painful to admit that we broke the rules, our team was responsible for learning the rules beforehand. Even though we were telling our coach what to enter, only the team members were allowed to handle the computer and robot. In the end, the experience in the Lego Robotics competition taught us a valuable lesson – that embracing the truth, even when it reveals our mistakes, is an essential part of personal and team growth.

Is it fair to all concerned? Fairness. When I was in elementary school, they taught students to be fair and helpful to others. But what does it mean to be fair? Does it mean that everyone is involved and plays a role? Does it mean that all parts are equal? Does it mean everyone works together at the same status without excluding anyone? Is it a combination of all these things? Being fair is much more than just going out of your way to make someone feel included. It is about empathy. It is about understanding how someone else feels and what their needs are. How have your choices impacted them? For better or for worse? Being fair is about making decisions that help others before making decisions that help yourself. It is about being selfless. Being fair is also about respect. We should strive to respect others, no matter their race, religion, grades, or career. When I first learned that our Lego robotics team could not advance to the championship, I thought it was unfair because I didn’t realize that we were breaking the rules. Even though we did not know the rules, it was still unfair to the other teams. Being fair requires us to not only follow the rules but also to become aware of them so that we can follow them.

Will it build goodwill and better friendships? This lesson is about being kind. In Girl Scouts, we occasionally do cleanups in places that need it. We all love cleanup events to help build a sense of community. Recently, we chose a local park with a lake. As we picked up stray pieces of litter, a bond began to form. Not only did a bond form between us Girl Scouts, but we also strengthened our bond with the Earth. We laughed and shared stories to pass the time. As we picked up trash, it benefitted the animals and plants that make the park their home. We, a few Girl Scouts, were slowly making the world a better place, one piece of trash at a time. Letting the other person know you care about them is one way to create better friendships. Laughing together strengthens our friendships. When we were done at the end of the cleanup, we were grateful for this opportunity and each other. Community service allows us to not only help our community but also grow our sense of goodwill and friendship among the Girl Scouts in our troop.

Will it be beneficial to all concerned? After being disqualified in the semi-finals, our coach and I volunteered at the championship. I had yet to learn the amount of work and the number of volunteers that it takes to help 36 teams showcase their work in a fun, safe, fair environment. I realized that I helped the people involved in the competition by volunteering. Instead of pitying my losses, there was a greater prize in helping other people achieve their goals. I believe that I learned more by volunteering at the championship than I could have as a participant in Lego Robotics. In truth, our volunteerism at the championship benefited the teams competing, the other hardworking volunteers, and ourselves. When we put others above ourselves, we receive a greater reward than any sum of money or trophies.

At the end of the day, the Four-Way Test applies to much of what we do and say. The Four-Way Test has taught me to be kind and helpful but also to learn from my mistakes. It has taught me not to strive to be perfect but rather to strive to be my best self. The Four-Way Test has helped me realize that being honest in my actions and admitting my mistakes can help me build trust and accept consequences; considering fairness helps me be more empathetic and inclusive; participating in service projects helps me feel more connected to my peers and builds my sense of community; and lastly, by considering how my actions can impact others, it helps me choose actions that benefit everyone. After all, there is no greater reward than helping others. The Four-Way Test is a tool that will continue to help me navigate this complex world as I continue to grow and strive to be better and help make positive contributions to my community.


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